Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 4, Number 18 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 November 1, 2012
Author's Notes In this article we discuss the tax listings and the census. Different information can be gleaned from each source, so it is good to compare the two records to unlock more questions that may help you solve another piece of your ancestory puzzle. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.
James L. Douthat
Tax Listings and Census
Sometimes, you find your ancestor on either the tax list or the census, but not on both even though you know that they were there at that time. One of the tricks I have used is to compare the two, a tax list about the time as the census. A transcriber frequently does not do both of these records and the reading of the names can vary. By a comparison of the two, you might discover that your ancestor is present on both.
In looking at the tax list, you will usually only find the name of the taxpayer. This is the head of the household for the most part. In the pre-1850 census, this is all that you are given anyway. One of the series of tax lists that we have found to be very helpful is the Tennessee 1836 Tax Listing of each county. In 1835, the State of Tennessee mandated that each county would be divided into Civil Districts based on population and geographic features. From that time on, all tax listings, voter listings and school listings were arranged by these Civil Districts. The 1836 Tax Listing was the first to be taken under the new Civil Districts.
One of the advantages of the Civil Districts was the location of lands held by various land owners. Under the former system, the county was divided into Militia Districts and the boundaries were not clearly established and not well defined. When a research located an ancestor in “Col. Smith’s District”, they would have little or no idea where in the county that person lived. Since the mandate to clarify the Civil Districts, a map was produced by the commissioners at the time showing where each District was located in the county along with the written description of those districts. The original tax list usually gave the number of acres the individual held. There was the usual taxation for carriages, poll tax, school taxes, state taxes, etc. From the number of acres you can then go to the Deed Records and hopefully find the correct person, especially when there are multiple persons with the same name in a county and different acreage listed.
The early census records for a county, at least those pre-1850, sometimes listed only the head of the household. Keep in mind that the 1840 census also lists those in the American Revolution or the War of 1812. Sometimes the pensioners listed in the 1840 census will be different from the head of household. It may indicate that the pensioner is wife’s father or stepfather. If it is the wife’s father, then you have her maiden name as well. One of the downfalls of the census is there is no indication of the location of the family. Now by comparison of the tax list and the census, you can probably place the person in some smaller area of the county.
Why is the location of the property and small area of the county significant? It is not so important to just know they lived on “Greasy Ridge”, but it is the other possibilities that come from their location. With a lot of the local maps generated by the United States Geological Maps, you will find other things in the smaller area. This service started printing maps in the late nineteen century. Some maps are as early as the 1870s. Usually your state libraries have the earlier maps of each of the counties. Even earlier than this are the multitude of maps generated during the Civil War, especially for the South and lower portions of the North.
What you are looking for on these maps are the mills, schools, churches, cemeteries and even communities. Why are these important? Each of them is likely to have listings of students, customers or burials. If your ancestor lived in one of these smaller areas of the county, there should be other records available. It is a fact that most of our ancestors did not travel too far to attend church or send their children to school. Likewise, they would not normally go across the county to have their grain ground into flour or meal.
By knowing where in the county your ancestor is located opens up a larger field for research. It is amazing how many mill, store, or school records have survived. Many churches have kept a history, roll books of births, deaths, marriages, etc. In some cases, the churches even keep records of who has joined or who was expelled from the congregation. It is really interesting to note that your g-g-g-mother was expelled for giggling in worship service. She was really naughty!!
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